How 'Globality' Will Change Your Life

Columnist Hal Sirkin introduces his series covering the enormous challenges and opportunities inherent in a world where commerce and ideas flow between all parts of the world

Why should you take time out from your busy day to read a column about "globality," a term you may never have heard before and aren't even sure is a real word? Good question.

Let me offer what I think is an equally good answer: You should read this column because it will discuss a new era of freewheeling business competition that is about to change your life—both personally and professionally. It also will change the lives of your children and your children's children. It's that big. (And for the record: Although used infrequently, globality is a legitimate word—first used, according to our research here at Boston Consulting Group in the 1940s.)

Globality will present the greatest management challenge of your lifetime. It also will offer the greatest opportunities. And the fate of companies, jobs, and entire economies may well be determined by how well you understand the phenomenon and the new cast of characters, and how quickly, boldly, and creatively you are able to act as a manager.

The full title of a new book which I co-authored recently, GLOBALITY: Competing with Everyone from Everywhere for Everything, points out how big this is.

What Globality Will Look Like

And that's what lies just ahead: You and your company—whether it's a U.S., Western European, Japanese, or Korean company—will soon be competing with hundreds of previously unknown companies from dozens of other countries, many of them what we used to call Third World countries, for energy, raw materials, skilled and unskilled workers, management talent, scientists and engineers, knowledge, financing, customers, markets, and virtually everything else.

Unlike globalization, globality will not be a one-way street, with U.S., Western European, and Japanese companies seeking competitive advantage overseas, through low-cost labor and increased sales in rapidly developing markets. Instead, it will be a global economic free-for-all which may be hard to imagine. And it will take real skill and ingenuity to come out on top.

Readers alive during the early Cold War may recall a system of Arctic and Canadian radar stations called the distant early warning (DEW) Line, intended to warn the U.S.—in the days before intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)—of a possible Soviet bomber attack.

This column and future columns will provide corporate managers, business and economic analysts, and policymakers a distant early warning about major changes in the global economy that go far beyond what we usually think of as globalization.

Answering the Global Questions

I'll discuss and analyze these changes and offer suggestions for managing such change. The columns will be partially descriptive, offering what BusinessWeek editors would call "good solid reporting" about the "New Global Challengers," the term we use to describe the hundreds of companies from all over the world that will force everyone from everywhere to compete for everything. The columns also will be partially prescriptive, attempting to answer the question: What should you do, where, when, and why?

I'll discuss the changing nature of competition and how you can help turn a perceived threat into an opportunity.

I'll discuss country advantages—China's well-known low-cost labor, for example, and Poland's proximity to Western Europe—and ways to capitalize on or minimize these advantages, whichever might be most appropriate to you.

I'll look at the difference between low-cost (a straight economic calculation) and right cost, which involves many other factors. We'll discuss "growing" and managing talent. We'll discuss the difference between research and development and innovation—and the need to innovate with ingenuity.

A New Era of Collaboration

I'll discuss the next billion consumers in the rapidly developing economies and what we refer to as "local sweet spots," or tailoring your products for specific markets.

I'll discuss acquiring challenger companies—collaborating with them, being acquired by them, and working for them. Who would have thought at the beginning of this decade that the IBM (IBM) PC business would be acquired by a Chinese company, or that Jaguar and Land Rover would become Indian brands, part of the same conglomerate that now owns Tetley Tea?

The U.S. has seen waves of competition in the past. In fact, at the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S. itself was the upstart competitor, challenging the old industrial order of Europe. By the mid 20th century, the U.S. was the world's undisputed industrial leader.

Next Wave Will Dwarf the Last

Then the challengers started coming: A rebuilt Japan, which we didn't take seriously at first, lulled us to sleep with trinkets and transistor radios and then—over the course of two decades, the 1960s and '70s—became a commanding leader in automobiles and consumer electronics. South Korea became a serious challenger more recently. And we are all now suddenly aware of China's and India's lurking presences.

The next wave of competitors will dwarf what has come before. Japan, when it made its move, had maybe 120 million, 130 million people. The next wave—with companies from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, and elsewhere competing with U.S., European, and Japanese companies, and with each other, for everything, everywhere—will involve 3 billion people. But those 3 billion people are also potential partners, suppliers, and customers.

I not only invite you to read, but I hope you will become engaged, sharing your comments, suggestions, and questions as I move ahead. I hope this column will generate a lively discussion—with you as an active partner and participant. I hope that together we can address the challenges, even struggles, you will face in the coming era of globality.

Globality is complex. Those who make the right decisions in a timely fashion will see their lives changed for the better. Those who don't will pay the price.

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